How do I set Intimacy Agreements with my partner?

Many people worry about how to set intimacy agreements with their partner/s and ask me about it.  I appreciate that so many people are looking for support around navigating relationship agreements.  It shows that they are actively seeking out more information and skills to show up well to their relationships.  This is what I love to support. 

Enough people asked that I’m now sharing these suggestions.  Whether you take these ideas and plan out a clear agenda for your conversation or you add them to the other ideas in your pocket for a creative moment of improvisation, I am thrilled you are here considering more possibilities.

Please let me know if you have suggestions or feedback.

If you’d like to read more like this: check out the book I am a co-author in: Getting Along: Skills for life-long love.  If you’d like to know more about my coaching offerings please sign up for a chat with me.

How to set intimacy agreements with my partner/s?

How can we set ourselves up for success? What does success look like for each of us? This is not about fairness. This is not a ‘tit for tat’ game. This is a game of two or more people who are in this relationship to nourish each other.  This is one conversation, probably of many, in which we practice our current level of skills to have this kind of conversation.  At least one person’s intention is to explore new things related to intimacy and we all courageously want to talk together about making agreements.  Out of this conversation, we hope to deepen our conversation skills and understand each other more.  We also aim to create a clear and specific time based agreement that works for everyone involved.    

Show up at your current best:

You will bring all that you know about each other and how you best communicate effectively so that everyone is heard and supported best.   You might know their love languages.  You might know how to observe their emotions from their body language.  You also know yourself and how you share what is true for you with your words and your body.

You might know to say back what they said or pause before you respond.  There are many communication skills to choose from and you have your combination together.  Here you are, presently on this journey of getting to know them and you and how you support each other.

The second key element to acknowledge is that you are each showing up with your current level of skills to track and respond to your internal experiences when involved in a potentially emotionally charged conversation.

Alyssa’s Story:

I know myself. I know that in conversations like these my ‘go to’ brain responses have sounded loudly in my mind saying: “I’m taking things personally” or “I’m comparing myself to others and “I often get defensive”.  I’ve learned that these responses are my version of the normal doubts or fears that humans experience when we are in situations that cause us to challenge our status quo way of living. 

I now have more skills to observe these thoughts popping up and can shift my attention to why I am in this conversation.  I am here to be a loving partner and therefore I remind myself that I am willing to put those worries to the side and hear my partner and their vulnerable sharing of desires.  What a beautiful person in front of me.  I’m grateful to be in this conversation. Tracking my internal doubts and worries is only a piece of the skill set.  What you do after you recognize how your mind is activated is really important. 

One time I was not able to shift my attention to continue the conversation.  I could feel myself freezing.  My thoughts were racing and defensive.  I wasn’t making eye contact and my breath had tightened in my chest.  I told my partner that I needed time to take in what they’d said and we could come back to the conversation in two days.  I knew that had I continued talking about the topic at that moment, the conversation was not going to end well.  I wasn’t clear at all what to say and was likely going to get defensive.  My guess is, that had we continued, we probably would have been sidetracked, frustrated, and unclear as a result.

Instead I took a shower, had a helpful cry alone, and talked about other things for the rest of the night.  In the following days I made sure to have a few calls with friends who were the perfect kind of support, journaling time, some exercise, and healthy food.  By our next date, I was ready to continue with a clear mind and was willing to be compassionate.  What a relief to know I could show up well to my partnership by taking a break from the conversation.                                                               

Thank you to Academy for Coaching Excellence & Give Yourself to Love Interested in developing these skills? Let’s chat.

Request the Conversation in Advance

1. Invite everyone. This might be a conversation between 2 loves or more people.  Let all the people who will be at the conversation know what questions or topics will be discussed ahead of time.  This way people can prepare and find support prior to meeting.  You want all of you to show up feeling empowered to share truthfully and hear the other/s.

2. Share what a successful conversation means to each of you

One example: Out of talking about our next agreements, I’d love us to:

  • Understand more about what each of us is currently interested in exploring
  • What we feel willing to try at this time
  • What feels off the table at the moment for each of us (limits)
  • Get as specific as necessary in the agreement
  • Hear how we might support each other in this next phase of our life experiment
  • Decide when we’ll next check in on how it’s going
  • Acknowledge each other for having the conversation and hearing each other at the end.

3. Set yourselves up for success.

Share what might be a sweet way to set the stage for a meaningful conversation.  You don’t want to be rushed, distracted, hungry, exhausted… etc.  How can you arrive nourished so that you can best be with whatever comes up?  Consider thinking of details such as the amount of time you commit to the conversation.  You may also pick a location that supports your focus of attention. Example:

  • Let’s set aside an hour and talk on the couch with tea after the kids are asleep on Saturday night (phones on airplane mode).  Does that work for you?

4. Prepare for charged moments during the conversation.  Let each other know what you might need to do for self-care or connection with your partner if strong emotions come up for you during the conversation.  This prepares each of you to compassionately stay present with each other when one person calls a time-out in some way.

  • If I get upset and I can’t think straight I might leave the room and take a walk alone.  I can commit to text you or talk with you in 15 minutes.  
  • If I have a strong worry come up I might need to pause the conversation and ask you to tell me something you love that I bring to your life.   

5. Share what a supportive time after the conversation would be for each of you. Be specific about how much time you will commit to do this together. 

  • Wanna cuddle or give each other massages together for 20 minutes? 
  • Could we each share how much it means to have had the conversation and what we appreciated about how we stayed with it?
  • I will take 30 minutes to be alone after. 

If one person wants to be alone and the other wishes for support, this is good to know ahead of time.  Then the person who wishes for support may be able to set up a call or meeting with another dear person in their lives.

The Arc of the Conversation:

Setting the Container:
1. Connection: Appreciate that you are having the conversation together. 2. Share desired outcomes for connection & setting an agreement.
3. Tell each other how you want to be supported if strong emotions arise. (If already discussed prior to the conversation just remind each other.)
4. Decide on what you’ll do directly after the conversation and how much time you’ll spend on it. (If already discussed prior to the conversation just remind each other.)

Getting into it:
5. Share desires and curiosities and ask each other what’s important about those.
6. Discuss details and limits to create an agreement that is meaningful, specific, attainable, measurable, and set in time.
7. Clarify when you’ll next discuss the agreement. This may include celebration, reflection, and re-evaluation.

Closing it well:
8. Discuss any support that you each see would be beneficial to set up for this timeframe
9. Share something you appreciate about how the other showed up to the conversation. Complete the conversation.
10. Do what you planned for the aftercare time.

Setting the Container:

Start the Conversation with Connection & Clarity. 

Start with a few appreciations.  What do we appreciate about each other in this moment?  Thank each other for the courage and vulnerability it might be taking to be in this conversation together. 

Share your desired outcome from the conversation in terms of connection and the practical agreement.

Prioritize connection in your objectives.  If you have a logistically complete agreement but you one of you is left feeling annoyed or resentful about the process, it wasn’t worth rushing it.  If you feel connected and haven’t completed the agreement you can set another time to continue.  Be gentle with yourselves.  

  • Do not rush to make decisions.  When we are rushed we often are not as clear.  The goal is to find clarity in the agreement.  In order to do that well it’s key to stay present with each other and tuned in to what you are experiencing.
  • You might have clear agreements at the end of the conversation or you might take a break and continue another time.  Recognize that the main desired outcome of the conversation is having had the conversation and staying in it together.  You are practicing a skill that may be uncomfortable or new for one or all of you.  Developing how you talk about this is very important for how you continue to talk about your intimacy.      

Tell each other how you want to be supported if strong emotions arise. (If already discussed prior to the conversation just remind each other. See above for more details.)

Decide on what you’ll do directly after the conversation and how much time you’ll spend on it. (If already discussed prior to the conversation just remind each other. See above for more details.)

Getting into it:

Share Desires & Curiosities:

What are you currently interested in exploring?  Set the context that the conversation will explore.  Start by hearing possibilities and acknowledging each other for sharing them.  You can discuss limits and your personal responses later on but first take this as an opportunity to connect with the other person.  

Discuss what is Meaningful to you:  What does this all mean to you or your partner/s?  This is clearly important otherwise you wouldn’t be having this conversation. Bring curiosity and compassion to how you are with the other/s.  This is an opportunity to understand a bit more about each other.

You might ask them:

  • What’s important to you about that idea? 

Or if you see them becoming tight in their body, for example, you might ask them:

  • What are you experiencing right now?

Be Specific:

An agreement might start by saying yes to a number of actions, people, and situations. Keep asking questions until all the details you can imagine are clear within the agreement.

  • Does the agreement change for you if you know the person I want to make out with, or their partner?
  • I hear that you want me to come home to sleep with you at the end of the night.  Do you have a time that you’d like to hear from me by if it gets really late?

Make it Attainable for everyone:

  • What are we willing to try at this time?
  • What feels off the table at the moment for each of us (limits).

Share what seems possible and what seems impossible for you at this time.  You want to choose an agreement that both of you can stick to.  If someone is currently needing a lot of support mentally and worried about jelousy being too much for them right now it might be more appropriate to include less in this version of the agreement while finding therapeutic support takes priority.  If one partner knows that they previously have broken agreements, maybe the timeframe chosen is one night or one week before a checkin conversation.  Together you want to celebrate following through and doing what you committed to so creating an achievable goal together is important.

Make it Measurable: Is there a way to measure that you are doing what you agree to?

As you discuss possibilities ask yourself if there is any confusion or question about the details?  You might notice a gap and observe that your mind starts thinking of how you might use that vagueness to try something you’re interested in.  Catch yourself from following any potentially ‘sneaky’ thoughts.  Remind yourself that you are up leveling your relationship by being as truthful as you can in this agreement process.  Asking a clarifying question is a way to show up as the best person you can be.

Clarify any vagueness or doubts:

  • Do we want to use barriers for oral sex with other people?  There are unlikely chances of contracting some Sexually Transmitted Infestions (STIs) from kissing.  Are we OK with taking that risk? 
  • What would you like to agree about if I walk in to the dungeon/playspace/tantric temple and see you with them?  Shall I assume it’s welcome for me to: let you know I’m there and watch, ask to join, leave the space…?

Set a Timeframe for the Agreement.

Create an agreement that we both say ‘yes’ to try out for a specific period of time.  The agreement might be completed after the party that it was created for or it might continue until a set date when reflection, celebration, and reevaluation could happen together.

  • For the play party on Saturday night
  • With Jorge until I am back in town and set up a time to meet with him.  I will email him by tomorrow to find a time in 3 weeks from now.
  • For the next 2 months. Let’s have a check in conversation on the 31st

Discuss Support:

Ask each other if there is any support that they see that would be useful during this next phase of this life experiment together. Often actively having a network of support outside of this relationship can be a great support.    Discussing this question might lead to clarity on what support looks like for each person.

  • A support request of each other
  • A decision for self care:
    • A daily woods walk, journaling,
  • A action step to ask support from community
    • To set a weekly chat with a
    • To bring the topic to therapy, a coach, or a support group of some kind. 

Close with Specific Acknowledgements:

  • “I’m so glad we did that.  Thanks for taking a tea break in the middle.  That moment really helped me reconnect to you.” 
  • “I appreciated how you asked me about the fantasy I shared? I really feel like you understand something new about me.”  

Aftercare. You did it.  Now go do what you said you’d do for aftercare.